Personalized ads: A guide to personalization without cookies

By IBM Watson Advertising

Personalized advertising, formerly known as interest-based advertising, uses customer insights to increase the relevancy of an ad. Increasing in popularity over recent years, personalized advertising can be a powerful tool to improve the relevance of an ad for users while increasing ROI for advertisers. Personalization can provide a better user experience and help brands connect with their target audience.

Insights leveraged for personalized campaigns include a wide range of indicators related to human wants and needs, geolocation, and basic demographic information. This data can also be hyper-specific to your target audience, such as a niche interest or buying intent.

What do customers think of personalized advertising?[i]

Fifty-two percent of customers expect offers to always be personalized—up from 49 percent in 2019. Additionally, 66 percent of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs. However, only 34 percent of companies are delivering on this expectation.

Privacy and personalization

With this increased want for personalized advertising, there comes some concerns regarding privacy from end users. With regulations like the EU’s GDPR evolving and becoming more stringent, brands need to learn how to deliver personalized experiences without being intrusive.

Not only are regulators addressing these concerns, but companies such as Google will phase out cookie-based targeting by 2022. Solutions such as contextual advertising can help brands create relevant ads based on contextual signals instead of browsing history. Additionally, AI and machine learning can scale ad placements, using algorithms to identify opportunities. As privacy becomes an increasing concern, using new methods to target users will become increasingly important for brands.


What’s the difference between personalized ads and non-personalized ads?

Non-personalized ads are not directly based on a user’s past behavior or interests. Their primary focus is often brand awareness and can include television commercials and billboards. Non-personalized ads often focus on reach rather than a personal message or experience. While an effective strategy to drive awareness, non-personalized ads are difficult to calculate regarding ROI and can lead to wasted dollars. 

Personalized ads, on the other hand, use insights to improve the relevancy of ads, such as human wants and needs, geolocation, and basic demographic information. An example of a personalized ad is an ad for rain boots (based on the fact the consumer is in a rainy location), or an ad for running apparel as a consumer reads an article about marathon runners in her city.


The future of personalized ads without cookies

As the advertising industry prepares for a future without cookies and other personally identifiable information (PII), marketers must discover new strategies for reaching their audience. Even with the loss of cookies, AI is still able to recognize patterns in a target audience, without needing to resort to identity-based advertising. With AI, advanced contextual advertising can be achieved by analyzing how a person behaves in a digital space to anticipate their needs and preferences.

In fact, the impending loss of cookies and other PII might be the best change that could happen for modern advertising. After all, cookies and other types of third-party data are often faulty, incomplete and unreliable. Advanced contextual advertising cares less about past choices your customers and prospects have made and more about what matters to them at this very moment. Advertisers can rely on solutions that leverage AI and machine learning to reach the right audience through cookieless targeting.


The benefits of personalized ads: How can AI help you deliver better creative?

Machine learning is changing how advertisers approach their efforts and creative. In fact, 95 percent of organizations believe in the long-term benefits of personalization. There are several benefits in utilizing personalized ads powered by AI, including the following:

1. Effectively target specific audiences

The main benefit of personalized advertising is the capability to reach specific audiences. AI can analyze contextual signals to determine who would be most likely to convert during a campaign or who would be most receptive to a message from your organization.

2. Create more relevant content

Personalized advertising can also help you stand out from the crowd by creating more unique and targeted content that can provide customers with a lasting impression. By delivering content and messaging that is more relevant, you can build customer confidence while leading prospects down the sales funnel.

3. Build deeper relationships with customers

Personalizing your ads can also help build stronger and more personal relationships with your customers. You can show how much you value each customer by sending an email wishing them a happy birthday or by sending a thank you email on the anniversary of joining your email list.

4. Stand out from the competition

In the Americas, 41 percent of organizations surveyed say they cannot currently personalize any experiences for their customers. Additionally, less than 1 out of 10 respondents (9 percent) say they have the bandwidth and resources necessary to achieve personalization across different channels. By using personalized ads, your company can stand out from the competition with more relevant ads.

5. Boost sales and conversions

Personalized advertising is not just about connecting with your audience. It’s also a great way to help your customers and grow your sales. A simple recommendation or a suggestion has the potential to bring in a qualified lead that turns into a long-time customer.

Personalized experiences can help you drive better results

At IBM Watson Advertising, we understand the benefits of personalized advertising and have designed AI-powered solutions that help you stand out from the competition and drive ROI.

For example, a forecast of 50 degrees in one city may not cause the same behavior in another. Rather than relying solely on temperature or other basic factors, each Weather Targeting trigger uses machine learning to improve resonance by recognizing what the weather “feels like” and how consumers in that specific area are likely to react.

  • Conversational marketing: IBM Watson Advertising Conversations is an interactive solution that helps facilitate personalized AI conversations with consumers virtually anywhere online.

Powered by Watson AI, this turnkey solution is designed to deliver more engaging and memorable ad experiences by using artificial intelligence to understand the user’s intent and provide answers, recommendations or next steps. This helps assure that every interaction your consumer has is unique and effective while giving you valuable consumer insights.

  • Influencer marketing: IBM Watson Advertising Social Targeting with Influential offers AI-powered influencer technology that pairs brands with the right influencers to amplify their message and drive consumer engagement.

In today’s crowded digital landscape, it’s more important than ever to create an authentic connection with an audience. Social Targeting with Influential uses the most advanced AI technology to select influencers, inform content and strategy, and deliver higher engagement, sentiment and ROI. 

  • Predictive targeting: Through AI, advertisers can better predict who is more receptive to specific messaging to deliver the right ad to the right client at the right time. The ads that get in front of consumers contain information that they are more likely to want to see and can lead to more clicks and conversions.


watson advertising ai almanac


Personalization example: Toyota

Toyota came to IBM Watson Advertising to launch an automotive advertising campaign with the goal of engaging auto-intenders in today’s environmentally conscious world. Their Prius Prime vehicle is more technologically advanced than the average car. For that reason, the IBM Watson Advertising Conversations technology solution provided an exceptional way to engage and educate this tech-savvy audience.

Toyota Prius was able to have real-time conversations with clients and prospects. This interaction was a new way for users to engage with the brand, leading to the following results:[ii]

  • 6,000 total User Conversations
  • 3x Google Rich Media interaction-time benchmark
  • 20 percent increase in Purchase Consideration among M35-49
  • 37 percent higher engagement with audience-based location targeting than other audience-based campaign targeting used
  • 3 interactions per Session for Big Web


Final thoughts

At IBM Watson Advertising we are dedicated to providing cutting-edge solutions that enable users to create personalized experiences for customers. Powered by AI and designed to solve the marketing challenges of today without the use of cookies, personalized advertising can help to better target specific audiences, build deeper relationships, and boost sales and conversions. 


Ready to learn more about the benefits of personalized advertising? Request a demo today.


[i] State of the Connected Customer, Salesforce, Data in this report is from a double-blind survey conducted from July 16 through August 18, 2020

[ii] The performance data and client example cited are presented for illustrative purposes only. Actual performance results may vary depending on specific configurations and operating conditions.